Right now, Leonardo Notarbartolo is probably wishing he'd heeded the advice of his mother, and mothers everywhere, before plotting the largest jewelry heist in the history of the world.
Since the Middle Ages, Antwerp has stood as the capital of the world's diamond trade with specialists perfecting the art of cutting and polishing the precious stones. And due to the huge trade that flowed through the city, Antwerp was largely regarded as a pipe dream, the criminal version of the hitting the lottery and with about the same odds of success. Buried in the heart of the city, the Antwerp Diamond Center is locked down in all the right ways. Armed guards control who gets in and out. Movements are constantly covered by electronic surveillance. Keys are monitored. Goods are compartmentalized. Barricades control vehicle access. By all means, the Diamond Centre was the last place anyone wanted to steal diamonds, the stakes were too high.
The School of Turin
A group of largely Italian professional thieves, known as the School of Turin, decided that hitting the Diamond Centre was not only feasible, it was their goal. The group knew that with heightened security and the reputation that the Diamond Centre had, that security at the Centre was likely to have a major vulnerability - complacency. The extreme level of security also meant that the Antwerp Diamond Centre would be no simple smash and grab. No, it would take planning, a great deal of planning. Member Leonardo Notarbatol took an inside job as a diamond merchant, giving the School of Turin unprecedented access to the inside of the Antwerp Diamond Centre and the 160 security boxes of diamonds, jewels, and other riches that it contained. The rest of the team split themselves up and organized by specialties - safe crackers, alarm experts, getaway drivers. The plan started to shape up in a way that would make most Hollywood screenwriters jealous - the School of Turin was turning a job on the Antwerp Diamond Centre into Oceans 11 without the banter.
At approximately 7:00 pm local time, on Friday the 14th of February, 2003, the group known as the School of Turin was beginning the active phase of the largest diamond heist the world has ever seen. Notarbartolo reportedly had remained in the vault that Friday night when the security doors closed automatically at 7:00 pm. Several hours later, the elevator leading down to vault was purportedly used by three other members of the School. The motion detector at the foot of the elevator has already been disabled by an application of spray silicone, and the vault's light detector had been rendered useless with a simple piece of tape. With all of the prep work done, the School of Turin found themselves alone with the vault of the Antwerp Diamond Center.
Gaining access to the vault was not the same, however, as gaining entrance. The vault itself was protected by a dual lock system: a combination and a key lock, and two feet of reinforced steel. The key part was easy, as duplicates of the key had been made in advance. The combination lock was a bit more difficult and the police have yet to release information pertaining to exactly how this was by cracked.
Buried behind those two locks was something else - a fail-safe alarm that consisted of magnets that would notify the police as soon as the vault was opened and the magnets were no longer touching. The alarm, like all true Hollywood masterpieces, was automatic and could not be turned off. The fail safe was defeated with the most minimalist of moves. The crack team of burglars snipped the magnets out of their resting places and taped them together, allowing the vault door to be opened without ever separating the magnets.
The taping of the magnets was the final step. There in the vault, the School of Turin pried open that heavy door, knowing that they would be undisturbed as they gazed upon their jackpot, the largest diamond heist in history. For the remainder of the weekend, the School of Turin set to breaking into vaults and safety deposit boxes. Out of the 160 security boxed, the highly skilled crew worked through 123, popping the locks with a tool they created specifically for the job. But these professionals didn't merely grab diamonds, of which the trade is much more restricted than most would have you believed, no, they grabbed the paperwork necessary to sell the diamonds as legitimate. That which couldn't easily be resold and even currency, items with combined values totaling in the millions of dollars, were left willy-nilly on vault floor.
The Perfect Escape?
The School of Turin's exit was as meticulously planned as their entrance. Long before entering the Diamond Centre, the school had fabricated their own master key which gave them access to every door in the Antwerp Diamond Centre. Key in hand, some of the crew made their way to the security center and removed the tapes from the security system. To aide in their getaway, the thieves placed the videos from the nights prior into the security system. That same handmade key gave Notarbartolo and the remainder of the crew access to the underground garage, which had an exit route that put them a full block outside the gated, guarded, and contained Diamond Centre.
The group was, for all intents and purposes, home free. After stopping at Leonardo's apartment to divvy up the take, the crew wisely decided to leave town. In a wooded area about 30 miles or so outside of the city, the School of Turin disposed of some of the less damning evidence by tossing bags into a secluded spot, their final task before sailing off into the criminal hall of fame.
The sailing was not nearly as smooth from there out. Certainly without thought, one item had been placed in that bag which proved to be rather damning, and more than certainly avoidable. As the School of Turin was making their way casually out of Antwerp with approximately 100 million Euros, Leonardo was eating a salami sandwich. Unfortunately for Leonardo, he wasn't as hungry as he thought he was when purchasing the sandwich. Unwilling to finish it, he simply tossed the sandwich into the bag with the other disposable items. That bag, which was turned over to the police by the owner of the not-so-secluded bit of land, was set to be processed by forensic teams which were able to extract a sample of Leonardo's DNA from the sandwich.
It just goes to show you, that even when you planning a diamond heist, your mother's dinner table advice can still come in handy...about 100 million Euros handy. That advice? Make sure your eyes are not bigger than your stomach.